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Opinion

‘It’s time for BMW to relaunch Triumph, and Rishi Sunak should help’

Mike Rutherford thinks there needs to be more British car companies selling sensibly priced cars on the world stage

Opinion - Triumph

It’s decision time for British-born and based manufacturers building cars in big numbers. Can they explain why, apart from Brexit, they and smaller firms collectively produced an impressive 1.7 million cars in 2016, but a mere 905,000 last year?

When Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says his UK Government is “backing our car-manufacturing industry” and that “the UK is the best place to build cars of the future”, can we believe him?

Thanks to the likes of Aston Martin, Bentley, Caterham, Jaguar, Lotus, Land Rover, McLaren, Morgan and Rolls-Royce, the UK has plenty of firms (most, if not all, foreign-owned) building upmarket cars. Trouble is, they’re costly and only produced in low to medium volumes for wealthy minorities. Therefore, they accounted for just a tiny fraction of the 72 million car sales across the globe last year.

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And even in our biggest and most important export market – Europe – the products from these small to mid-sized firms barely make a dent.

In what can loosely be described as the 2023 Top 100 of European sales, Volkswagen and Audi were the biggest brands, backed up by fellow Germans BMW, Mercedes and Opel. But Skoda (Czech Republic) claimed the runner-up spot, narrowly ahead of Toyota, backed by Suzuki (Japan), Hyundai and Kia (South Korea), Dacia (Romania), SEAT and Cupra (Spain), and Renault, Peugeot and Citroen (France). Tesla and Ford (US) and MG (China) also did well. Fiat (Italy) and Volvo (Sweden) put in token appearances near the bottom, as did Britain, through MINI – our sole representative.     

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Questions: if Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Tesla made it onto this list with various cars, why not one from Land Rover or Jaguar? How did comparative upstarts Tesla and Dacia outdo bigger, better, more experienced firms by claiming the No.1 and No.3 slots (with Model Y and Sandero)? Why are the unassuming Czech Republic and its humble Skoda so much more successful than rivals at selling vehicles to the penny-pinched masses?        

And given that MINI is the only Brit-born and based firm to make it into the Top 100, isn’t it time we admitted that it’s now the sole true-Brit manufacturer (albeit a German-owned one) of mass-produced cars with just-about-affordable price tags?

Britain clearly needs companies other than MINI trying to peddle sensibly priced cars on the world stage. And I can think of one that could. It’s on the eve of its 140th birthday, and while it was disappointingly declared defunct 40 years ago, BMW formally acquired it 10 years later. So there’s no time better than the present for PM Sunak to prove he’s backing our car industry and showing that we’re the best place to build high-quality real-world cars than by helping BMW with the rebirth of a legendary brand – Triumph.

Its owner has claimed recently that the marque “is always there to be rejuvenated if we choose.” And in the 2020s/30s and beyond, versions of past gems such as the Spitfire or Dolomite would, I suspect, go down well – if they’re built well and priced right. It’s a yes from me, Rishi. How about you?

Do you agree with Mike? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section...

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Chief columnist

Mike was one of the founding fathers of Auto Express in 1988. He's been motoring editor on four tabloid newspapers - London Evening News, The Sun, News of the World & Daily Mirror. He was also a weekly columnist on the Daily Telegraph, The Independent and The Sunday Times. 

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